The Enlightenment of Joseph Banks by Jordan  Goodman
(William Collins, 2020)

The Enlightenment of Joseph Banks

by Jordan Goodman

Joseph Banks, botanist on The Endeavour’s great voyage under the command of Captain James Cook to the South Pacific, was a child of the Enlightenment. He believed that reason, in the shape of scientific knowledge, was the key to political and economic progress. He also believed that science was equivalent to power; that it could be harnessed to the service of the state. During his lifetime, Britain did indeed become the Imperial centre of the world. By 1820, more than a quarter of the globe was under British imperial rule.

At the centre of it all, as head of the Royal Society for almost 30 years, was Banks. He was what Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point calls a ‘connector’, someone so widely connected that he can be reached by almost anyone in very few steps. He knew Josiah Wedgewood, Matthew Boulton and Erasmus Darwin, the Lords of the Admiralty, the Directors of the East India Company. He met the King every Thursday for an hour, to walk in Kew and talk, and plan. He corresponded with other great thinkers and politicians on every continent. Delve behind the scenes of almost any British expedition of exploration and conquest – the missions to the interior of Africa, the McCartney Embassy to China, Bligh’s voyages to Tahiti and Jamaica – and there is Banks, mild and knowing, writing at his desk in Soho Square. Jordan Goodman’s brilliant, epic work of narrative history will tell the story of the foundation of British Empire, and of the brilliant man at its hub, who presided over the professionalization of science, and understood how it would change the balance of powers in the world.